On 30 July 2020 the Media Rights Defence Centre and the Glasnost Defence Foundation made an official appeal to the Presidential Human Rights Council in the case of journalist Ivan Safronov, who is accused of high treason. The full text of the appeal:
To the Chairman of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights
On 7 July this year, FSB officers detained Ivan Safronov, a former special correspondent for the newspapers Kommersant and Vedomosti (and in recent months advisor to the general director of the state corporation Roscosmos).
He was charged with high treason (under Article 275 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), and remanded in custody. Currently Ivan is in detention in Lefortovo Prison.
According to the FSB, Safronov was recruited by the Czech intelligence services and acted in their interests. The investigation does not report what kind of potentially dangerous actions on Safronov’s part are under discussion. The period that the investigators are talking about (2012-2017) concerns the time when Ivan Safronov worked as a journalist for Kommersant publishing house. Until May 2020, Ivan worked as a journalist and did not and could not have access to state secrets as part of his professional activities. Nor did he have access to information relating to state secrets during his time working for the Roscosmos state corporation, according to its official statement.
Journalism runs in Ivan Safronov’s family: by joining the profession he followed in the footsteps of his father, Ivan Safronov Sr. Safronov’s father, a retired officer, wrote for Kommersant on the military industry and military-technical co-operation. He died in mysterious circumstances in 2007 while working on an investigation into the sale of Russian missiles to Iran.
Like his father, Ivan Safronov wrote about the army, military and space industries. For example, in September 2018, he was the first to report on the causes of an accident at the International Space Station, and in March 2019 he reported that Russia was to supply Egypt with SU-35 fighters. In April 2019, Ivan Safronov co-authored a report saying that Sergei Naryshkin might replace Valentina Matvienko as Speaker of the Federation Council.
After that, representatives of the newspaper’s shareholders demanded that Safronov disclose the sources of information – but he refused to do so, in line with journalistic professional ethics and in accordance with Article 41 of the Russian Federal Law ‘On Mass Media’. Safronov was fired, and all the journalists of the Kommersant politics department left with him.
After Safronov’s arrest in early July, leading Russian publications (Kommersant, Vedomosti, RBK, Dozhd, Meduza, Mediazona, Novaya Gazeta, and others) and their employees expressed solidarity with him. He was supported by journalists – Andrei Kolesnikov, Mikhail Zygar, Elizaveta Osetinskaya, Gleb Cherkasov, Ilya Bulavinov, Ivan Golunov and dozens of others.
They affirm Safronov’s professionalism and demand an open investigation: at present the basis for the charges against him is not known even to lawyers, as the representatives of the investigation did not submit the necessary documents at the court hearing that considered the issue of pre-trial restrictions.
Now Ivan Safronov, who has suffered from severe pneumonia, is isolated in a pre-trial detention centre, is unable to meet with his lawyers, and cannot receive letters and parcels due to suspected coronavirus. Safronov also cannot be visited by representatives of the Public Monitoring Commission, which makes the situation even less transparent.
Considering the great significance to society, and the concern of the journalistic professional community, we kindly ask the Human Rights Council to take this case under its special oversight.
We ask that, within the limits of its powers, it draw the attention of the investigative authorities and the President of the Russian Federation to a situation which is causing serious concern among civil society regarding the criminal prosecution of a journalist, as well as among the journalistic community. We believe it is important to demand from the investigative authorities an open and transparent investigation, promptly informing the public of the grounds for the charges brought and the progress of the investigation, as well as ensuring unimpeded access to Ivan Safronov for his lawyers and members of the Public Monitoring Commission.
We ask the Human Rights Council to openly inform the public of the results of public oversight of the investigation into the actions of Ivan Safronov, by making generally available the responses of state bodies to inquiries in this case.
We are counting on an active and principled stand, as experts, on the part of the Human Rights Council in connection with this controversial case, which is causing serious concern among the professional community. We all understand that the secrecy and the vagueness of the accusations, and the harshness towards the accused journalist, could aggravate the growing crisis of trust between the media community and the authorities.
This case demonstrates the serious threat to all journalists writing on topics that are in one way or another related to the military and space industries, affecting issues of national security. We call on the Human Rights Council to take over the public oversight of this case and to act as moderator in the dialogue between state authorities, the media community and civil society in the context of the Ivan Safronov case.
30 July 2020
Aleksei Simonov, President of the Glasnost Defence Foundation, former member of the Human Rights Council
Galina Arapova, Director and Senior Lawyer of the Media Rights Defence Centre
Translated by Anna Bowles